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Midieval Bestiaries

Greetings unto all!  I will try to relate the following information, weaned
from a magazine article, while breaking as few copyright laws as I can.  When
recently searching for an article in my back issues of DRAGON(tm) Magazine,
put out by TSR, I found an interesting article in the Nov. 1993 issue (199),
that would be of interest to other SCAdians.  The author, David Howery,
researched a lot of the misconceptions people had about animals in the Middle
Ages that led to the legends we have today.

To summarize his introduction:  Most of the "Learned Men" of the Middle  Ages
were quite ignorant.  Most of the information we know on how people in the
Middle Ages viewed the world was copied by monks, giving the work a religious
slant, but allowing the work to be preserved in monestaries (thankfully).
 The following were considered to be fact in the Middle Ages in Europe and
are taken from midieval bestiaries, which he did not name, but did say that
the most famous bestiary was preserved for centuries at Cambridge, and a
translation by T. H. White is available in most bookstores.
The following are selected quotes from his article:

"Bear:  A cub is born as a shapeless pulp, and the mother must lick the cub
into shape.  A bear's jaws are weak.  When ill, a bear is cured by eating
either the mullien plant or ants.  Males and females lair together through
the winter, in seperate chambers of the cave.  Bears die from eating the
mandrake plant.
Bull:  Some bulls have a hide so thick it can repel every weapon.  Others are
a type of unicorn animal, having only one horn and solid (not cloven) hooves.
 These are so feirce that when captured they go mindless with rage.
Camel:  The camel is wise and lives for 100 years.  If sold to a stranger it
becomes ill with disgust.
Cat:  Some cats, particularly black ones, serve as familiars for witches in
the cause of evil.  Cat's eyes are so sharp, they peirce the darkness with
beams of light.
Crab:  This crafty crustacean loves to feed on oysters, but must first get
through the shell.  It waits until the oyster opens on its own, then inserts
a pebble into the valve to prevent it from closing.
Dog:  The dog is the wisest of animals, for only it can recognize its own
name.  It cannot live without men.  The tounges of puppies can be made into a
salve that heals internal injuries.
Dolphin:  This is a type of fish.  One species lives in tropical rivers and
has a saw-edged dorsal fin used to slice through the bellies of crocodiles.
Eagle:  When this bird grows old, it rejuvenates itself by first flying so
high that the sun singes its wings, then dipping itself three times in a
fountain.  It is spartan with its young, abandoning them if they show signs
of weakness or are unable to gaze fearlessly at the sun.
Fox:  Crafty and cunning, a fox never moves in a straight line.  When hungry,
it plays dead and lets its tounge hang out.  When birds see this and fly down
to sit on the corpse, the fox eats them.
Frog:  If a frog is placed on a lump of food and fed to a dog, the dog never
barks again.
Goat:  A male goat is so hot, it's blood can melt stone and metal.
Goose:  Some geese are born from barnacles.
Hawk:  This bird treats its young harshly to make them hardy as adults.  The
young are beated out of the nest to fend for themselves, and the adults do
not feed the young.
Horse:  At birth, a part of the foal's placenta makes a love charm.  A horse
weeps at its master's death.  Its virility is weakened when its mane is cut.
Hyena:  This beast was originally created by the crossbreeding of a dog and a
large cat.  It lives in tombs and devours the dead.  Its spine is so rigid,
it is unable to turn its head to look to the rear.  A hyena can mimic human
voices and lure men into ambush.  Hunting dogs lose their voices if they
cross a hyena's shadow.  There is a stone in a hyena's eye that allows men to
see the future.  If a hyena walks around a victim three times, the prey is
paralyzed....  A hyena may change sex at will.
Insects:  Most of these animals are born from wood, earth, or corpses; they
are never born from eggs.  Bees are born from the carcasses of cows, hornets
from horses, and wasps from burros.  Some species, such as bees and ants,
have large armies and kings.  Many are able to consume nothing but air, dust,
or water.
Jay:  Some of these noisey birds have feathers that glow in the dark.
Lion:  The lion is the prince of animals.  It walks on mountaintops so that
the scent of hunters reaches up to it.  It sleeps with its eyes open.  Cubs
are born in threes, but born dead.  After three days, the male breathes on
their faces, and the cubs come to life.  The lion ignores men, unless it is
wounded; it is compassionate and spares the lives of women and children.  It
eats sparingly, only on alternate dates, and never to excess.  The lion also
eats carefully and avoids carrion.  When sick, it eats monkeys to cure
itself.  It is afriad of white roosters.  There is a small creature of
unknown shape known as the leontophont, which is deadly to lions if eaten.
 If the body is burned and the ashes of a leontophont spread over meat, this
bait will kill lions.  Thus, lions pursue and kill leontophonts on sight and
use only their claws in the slaying.
Mouse:  The mouse is generated from damp soil.  Its liver waxes and wanes
with the moon.
Mullet:  The flesh of this fish can be prepared and eaten to cure excessive
lust and alcoholism.
Pelican:  This ugly bird kills its young when they are nearly grown.  Three
days later, the mother peirces her breast and lets her blood flow over the
young, which brings them back to life.
Snake:  This reptile is born from the spine of a dead man.  It is slimey and
can live if only the head and two inches of body survive.  A snake dies if it
swallows the spittle of a fasting man.
Stag:  This large deer is an enemy to all serpents.  When ill, a stag sucks
snakes into it's nostrils to cure itself.  If a stag is wounded by arrows,
the dittany plant cures it.  The stag enjoys the music of pipes.  When moving
in herds, stags travel in a line, with each resting its head on the haunch
ahead of it.  The right antler is good for healing men or repelling snakes.
 It is possible to gain immortality by eating venison over many years.
Toad:  A toad can create a basilisk or a cockatrice by nesting on a hen's
egg.  Semiprecious stones form in the heads of toads.
Turtle:  Ships move more slowly if they carry the right foot of a tortoise on
board.  Turtles make themselves temporarily immune to snakes by eating
Vulture:  This ugliest of birds reproduces by parthenogenisis-- the females
concieve without males.  They each live up to 100 years.
Weasel:  These animals excel at medicine and can bring their dead young back
to life.  Young are born through the ear or mouth.
Whale:  These are considered to be fish so large that they can be mistaken
for islands.  When people land on a whale's back, the whale dives into the
sea, drowning those people.  Whales feed by opening their mouths and emitting
a sweet smell that attracts fish.  When its mouth is full, the whale swallows
the fish.
Wolf:  Rapacious and greedy, wolves can live on earth and air alone.  Their
necks cannot turn their heads around to face the rear.  They give birth only
in May during thunderstorms.  Their eyes shine like lamps at night, and any
man who sees them is stricken dumb with fear.  If the man beats two stones
together, his speach returns.  If a man sees a wolf first, the wolf is
paralyzed with fright.
Worms:  Like insects, these are born from wood or corpses, and can live on
earth or air alone."

All of the information above was considered fact by the "learned men" of
Europe during the Middle Ages.  Of corse, the "learned men" were the ones
stuffed away in Monestaries or Universities, and rarely had the chance to
study these beasts.  Men who lived a more rural existance, and who had more
contact with the natural world probably knew a great deal more about animals.
 They just didn't write it down.
The author goes on to mention mythological animals as well.  One interesting
note-- he does not describe the horrible, fire breathing winged lizard that
we all know as a dragon.  The dragon of Midieval bestiaries was "a giant
winged serpent, rather than a giant winged lizard.  It has a crest and a weak
bite, but its tail can deliver a powerful clubbing blow.  This dragon kills
by coinstriction, like a python.  The dragon is large enough to constrict
elephants.  When it flies, the air around it... becomes superheated....  Note
that once the dragon lands, the air around it becomes normal in temperature."
However, based on my own research on the subject, Midieval dragons were
thought to be winged serpants that *did* breath fire, but were considerably
smaller than our modern image.  And the sight of a dragon in a kingdom meant
impending doom for that realm.  But you can probably find a different version
for every work of reference.

I hope this has proven informative for many, and not too long to be a bother
for those gentles not interested.
God by ye,

"I am but a wander here, full of wonder but with little information."